Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies in conjunction with Queen Mary College has launched the Dissenting Academies Project. It provides databases of academies in the 17th-19th centuries, principals, tutors, students and a “virtual” composite academies library from this period.
It is a huge resource of information on this topic and period but also provides a starting point for future research.
The earliest dissenting academies were established after the Restoration as a result of the 1662 Act of Uniformity, and were intended to provide Protestant students dissenting from the Church of England with a higher education similar to that at Oxford and Cambridge, from which they were largely excluded. Their main purpose was to prepare candidates for the ministry, but many educated lay students as well. They played a crucial role in ministerial and lay education: the tutors and the students they educated contributed in fundamental ways to the development of ideas, notably in the fields of theology, philosophy, literature, and science. In the nineteenth century the academies’ original purpose to provide a higher education was largely superseded by the founding of London and the provincial universities, which were open to dissenters, and by the eventual reform of Oxford and Cambridge.